Thursday, October 31, 2019
By Randy Romero (With contributions by Dexter Lynch)
In case you’re looking for some new (well, old) horror movie recommendations, I decided to compile a list of twenty hidden gems. Now I understand that some of these may not be considered hidden gems to horror fanatics like myself, but I’m sure some of these titles have been overlooked by many. And don’t expect any long, drawn out reviews. I’m only going to name the titles and share some personal thoughts or give a brief description of each title. Special thanks to Dexter Lynch for helping me put this together. You can find him on Twitter @SonOfSamLoomis.
My Little Eye (2002): If you’re looking for blood and gore, this will disappoint you. This film is a very slow burn, and relies more on mystery and nail biting suspense. The film is about five young adults who are selected to spend six months in an isolated mansion while being filmed at all times. The catch is that none of them can leave. If they last six months, they each walk away with a million dollars. They think they’re part of an internet based reality series, but when a lost computer programmer who spends most of his time on the internet, shows up on their property and doesn’t even recognize them, they begin to suspect otherwise. This film features a small cameo from a young Bradley Cooper, who plays the stranded computer programmer.
Frailty (2001): Underrated is the first word that comes to mind, though underappreciated might be the better term. This is a film about something that truly scares me because it’s very real; fanaticism. Directed by and starring Bill Paxton, the film also stars Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe. In the film, McConaughey’s character pays a visit to an FBI agent (Boothe) and unloads an unbelievable tale about his childhood, where his father (Paxton) believed he was being commanded by God to kill demons in disguise. When their father died, McConaughey’s brother picked up where he left off.
Waxwork (1988): A story about a group of teens lured to a wax museum, where they discover the horror exhibits are even realer than they appear. If they get close enough to the displays, they are transported to a different period in time, where they come face to face with a werewolf, Count Dracula, and the Marquis de Sade, among other threats. There was a sequel, which honestly wasn’t very good and I could’ve lived without watching it.
The Borrower (1991): This title blends horror with science fiction. An evil alien is banished to the planet Earth as punishment for his intergalactic crimes. He’s disguised as a human but with one small problem…every few hours, the alien begins to revert to its true form, prompting him to “borrow” heads from helpless victims to continue to live in disguise and evade capture. Twin Peaks fans may spot Madchen Amick in a small role as a rock groupie. Tommy Towles from House of 1000 Corpses and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer also has a role in this enjoyable Sci-Fi horror flick.
The Hidden (1987): Another film that falls under the Sci-Fi/horror genre. This title is about an alien parasite that possesses human bodies, forcing them to commit violent, senseless crimes. Hunting this extraterrestrial criminal is an FBI agent who may have a few secrets of his own (played by Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks fame, a show where he also played an FBI agent). The film is definitely more Sci-Fi and action than it is horror, but it’s still a fun ride. The opening car chase sequence is a great set up. Directed by Jack Sholder, who also directed Nightmare on Elm Street 2.
Madman (1982): A group of campers accidentally summon an axe-wielding killer named Madman Marz. This is a by-the-books slasher that borrowed a tiny bit from its predecessor Friday the 13th, but memorable enough to stand out on its own. Fans of Friday the 13th and similar titles should definitely enjoy this campfire killer story.
Intruder (1989): The crew of a local supermarket are terrorized and killed off one by one by an unseen stalker. Is the check-out girl’s jealous, violent ex-boyfriend behind all this, or is this the gruesome work of somebody else? Written and directed by Scott Spiegel, produced by Sam Raimi, and featuring a cameo by Bruce Campbell. The film was also produced and co-written by Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction). Another fun fact: This is the first film that KNB Effects worked on.
Videdrome (1983): Directed by the brilliant David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Dead Zone, Scanners), this movie follows the president of a small TV station that reels viewers in with everything from hardcore violence to softcore pornography. When Max Renn (James Woods) stumbles onto Videodrome, a pointless, plotless show where people are seemingly tortured and murdered for the viewers “pleasure”, he wants to find out who made it and get it on the air. Once Max is exposed to Videodrome, he experiences bizarre hallucinations that combine sex with violence. Is Max losing his mind? Or is there a power behind these Videodrome transmissions?
Witchboard (1986): I was pleasantly surprised the first time I watched this. I went in not knowing what to expect and was actually quite impressed. A young woman uses a Ouija Board at a party and is promptly terrorized by a spirit that wants to weaken her in order to possess her. This is a creepy and clever little flick that often gets avoided or overlooked. But I think it deserves to be on this list and I hope more people give it a shot.
The Prowler (1981): By the early 80's, the horror genre was booming, with new titles popping up on a weekly basis. One of the adverse effects was the fact that a lot of these slasher titles got overlooked. Such is the case with The Prowler. In 1945, a couple is attacked and murdered by a mysterious prowler dressed in World War II army fatigues. 35 years later, the prowler returns.
The Prince of Darkness (1987): The name John Carpenter is synonymous with horror. The man gave us horror classics like Halloween and The Thing. He terrified us with The Fog. He blew us away with Escape from New York. But I feel like this title always gets overlooked. A priest, played by Donald Pleasence, discovers a mysterious cylinder containing a strange green liquid. The liquid is the embodiment of Satan himself, and those that are exposed to the liquid become possessed. Like most early Carpenter films, this one is tense and carries a classic Carpenter music score.
Eaten Alive (1976): The “forgotten” Tobe Hooper film. Texas Chainsaw fans will rejoice with this film, which retains the same manic, psychotic energy of his seminal film. It also continued Hooper’s brilliant use of sound to enhance the craziness and the suspense. In the film, crazy Judd runs the Starlight and sacrifices his guests to the crocodile that lives in the swamp beside his hotel. The film features an early appearance by Robert Englund, and also stars Marilyn Burns of Texas Chainsaw fame.
Angel Heart (1987): Takes elements of horror and the supernatural, and applies them to a 1950s hardboiled detective story. With Mickey Rourke as its main star, and Robert DeNiro playing the mysterious Louie Cypher, I don’t know if this counts as a hidden gem. But it’s a horror movie that rarely gets mentioned. Harry Angel (Rourke) is a private detective who’s hired to track down a missing musician named Johnny Favorite. His client is bizarre and mysterious, the people he questions start to turn up dead, and horrific visions plague him on his journey to find Johnny Favorite.
Slugs (1988): A movie about killer slugs that were spawned by toxic waste (it’s always toxic waste or nuclear radiation, isn’t it). The film is that simple. It sounds cheesy, and it is. But it’s fun to watch and surprisingly well written. The film maintains a small cult following from horror geeks like myself.
Happy Birthday to Me (1981): Another slasher cult classic that got lost in the fray. I don’t want to spoil anything because this is a film with a twist. But this slasher flick is a step above the rest and very memorable. If you’re a fan of the 80’s slasher genre, you definitely need to check this out.
Curtains (1983): This is not your standard slasher movie. An actress gets herself committed to prove to her director how dedicated she is to her role in his next film. The director is in on it and even helps her get committed. You can imagine how surprised the actress is when she finds out the director is looking to cast a new lead in the film. He invites a few girls up to a secluded mansion to audition for the role. But one of the girls is willing to kill for this role, and that’s exactly what they do. The mask featured in this film is super creepy.
Cutting Class (1989): Featuring Brad Pitt in one of his first major roles. Teachers and students start turning up dead at a high school, and suspicion falls on Brian Woods, a problem teen who was just released from a mental institution not too long ago. But is somebody setting Brian up? Or is he truly guilty? The kills in this slasher are pretty unique, and you could tell by watching this that Brad Pitt was destined to be a star.
Dead and Breakfast (2004): It’s horror. It’s a comedy. It’s a musical? Well, it is in one particular scene. This zombie comedy is a riot and the plot doesn’t follow the standard zombie playbook. A group of friends on their way to a wedding get stranded in the small town of Lovelock. They crash at the bed and breakfast. But when the cook is murdered and the proprietor dies under suspicious circumstances, the stubborn sheriff forbids any of them to leave until he gets answers. The sheriff is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan of TWD fame. The eccentric owner was in possession of a mysterious box that has the ability to trap and possess souls. Once it ends up in the wrong hands, all hell breaks loose. The special effects are gnarly and the film itself is quite entertaining.
Deep Rising (1998): This film is a guilty pleasure of mine. This has enough gore to classify it as a horror film, but there’s tons of action and plenty of sharp, witty dialogue to make it a joyride. I think Roger Ebert said it best when he said this film is basically Aliens with a fresh paint job. Instead of a spaceship, they’re trapped on an actual ship. Instead of alien creatures, its mutated sea creatures. There’s even a little nod to Aliens when the tentacle creatures open their mouths to reveal a second mouth. The creature effects are quite impressive for its time, when they were just starting to get the hang of CGI and digital effects. The film has a great cast of recognizable actors who all play their parts very well.
Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016): The entire film has this lingering sense of dread and doom. Bravo to the director for pulling that off. I don’t want to spoil too much. It’s better if you just watch it and see how it unfolds. The cops discover a bloody multiple homicide, and make an even more shocking discovery in the basement, when they find a fourth body. A son assists his coroner father in doing the autopsy on the Jane Doe. There are no external visible signs of trauma, but her ankles and wrists are fractured, her tongue has been crudely cut out, her organs scarred and blackened. I don’t know if this title quite belongs on this list, but I’m sure there are some people who have missed out on this film.
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
WORST MOVIES EVER
By Dexter Lynch
Welcome to the first edition of “Worst Movies Ever”. I’m your benevolent (or should I say malevolent) host, Dexter Lynch. You can find me on Twitter @sonofsamloomis (shameless plug).
I don’t know when the next edition will be posted. Probably when I have more free time, which is almost never. But this first entry comes right in time for Halloween. So without any further ado, I’ll be giving you the rundown on some of the worst movies ever, starting with the horror genre. I’ll keep this short, sweet, and to the point. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, track some of these duds down and judge for yourself.
Iced (1988): Chances are you’ve never heard of this one. And if that’s the case, consider yourself lucky. It’s basically a soap opera masquerading as a slasher film. The plot is senseless, the characters are unsympathetic. And it has one of the most ridiculous ending I’ve ever seen in a horror movie, and I’m including the end of Christmas Evil. Watch a real horror movie instead of this tripe. Or if the soap opera element intrigues you, just go and watch Days of our Lives (is that show still on the air?)
The Forest (1982): This is an incoherent mess of a film featuring terrible acting and a mediocre score. Seriously, the scariest thing about this movie is the acting. And the death scenes leave a lot to be desired. Not to mention that the whole ghost children subplot is utterly absurd and feels completely out of place. Avoid this film like a case of the clap.
Night of the Demon (1980): Not to be confused with Night of the Demons (1988). A solid horror score was wasted on this otherwise banal, unremarkable take on the Bigfoot legend. Poor special effects, unconvincing Bigfoot makeup, continuity errors galore; this film has all the red flags of a bad horror movie. My favorite lapse in continuity was the doctor whose face was practically burned off, but when the authorities question him in the hospital, the top half of his face is okay while the rest is hidden under a white sheet. And since when does Bigfoot use an ax or a butcher knife? He’s freaking Bigfoot for crying out loud! The only decent special effect was the “ax through the skull” bit.
A Blade in the Dark (1983): This title falls under the giallo subgenre. The only positive thing I can say about this film is that it has an excellent horror score. The film itself is a tedious, uneventful slasher. Poor effects, little blood, virtually no gore. The slow, plodding story drags out in a futile attempt to create suspense. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t succeed in creating suspense. Avoid this film like your ex.
Psycho Cop (1989): The first Psycho Chop makes a huge mistake by taking itself too seriously. The sequel, Psycho Cop Returns didn’t have that same problem. It knew exactly what it was and it had a lot of fun with that, infusing bloody carnage with over-the-top humor and awful one liners that you can’t help but chuckle at. That’s sadly not the case with the original Psycho Cop. The story follows serial killing cop/devil worshiper Joe Vickers AKA Gary Henley AKA Ted Warnicky. The acting is atrocious to say the very least, and the kills are uninspired. It could’ve been a fun, likable popcorn flick. Instead it was a routine slasher that shares none of the positive qualities of similar titles like Maniac Cop. Don’t watch it unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
Friday, October 11, 2019
BELOW THE SURFACE
By Randy Romero (Randy Benivegna)
Monday, October 7th.
Redfield, New York.
Frank Burke was enjoying his first beer of the evening when in walked Darby Wilkinson, or Wilks as the guys called him down at the plant. He offered to buy Frank a beer, and Frank was never one to turn down a free drink. He was surprised his liver was still going after all these years.
Ridgewood Tavern was virtually empty, but Frank knew the place would be packed by eight o’clock for Monday night football. Ridgewood was Frank’s favorite spot in town. He stopped in every night for a few drinks after his shift.
Frank and Darby worked together at the Redfield Chemical Plant. It wasn’t a dream job for either man, but it paid the bills. But there were always rumors surrounding the plant, and questions that Frank and Darby never dared to ask their superiors.
“How you been, Frank?”
“I can’t complain. How’s the family?”
“Great. Nadine and I are doing well. And we just celebrated Devin’s tenth birthday.”
“They grow up so fast. Well, wish the kid a happy birthday for me, will ya?”
“Sure thing. Hey, did you hear about Crackerjack?” Darby said. Jack Halsey, disparagingly referred to by the guys at the plant as Crackerjack, had worked with Frank and Darby for a period of time. Then he quit to work for the county.
Frank couldn’t remember who started it, but one of their co-workers referred to Halsey as Crackerjack, and the nickname stuck due to his questionable mental state. Halsey was a nice enough guy, but anybody who talked to him could tell he had a few loose screws.
“No, what about Halsey?”
“Kicked the bucket. Heart attack.”
“I wonder if it had anything to do with his little breakdown,” Darby said.
“What do you know about that?” Frank asked.
“Not much. I heard he wigged out at work a month before he died. Why, you know something about it?”
“Only what Halsey told me.”
“And what did he tell you?”
Frank took a big sip of his beer and shook his head. “You wouldn’t even believe me if I told you. I sure as shit didn’t believe him.”
“Tell me anyway. This I’ve got to hear.”
“Well, keep in mind this is Crackerjack Halsey we’re talking about here. But apparently the county was having him repair a busted sewage pipe. The sewers underground here are just a bunch of interconnected tunnels. Very easy to get lost down there if you don’t know the way. Well, according to him, he saw something at the end of one of those tunnels.
Came out looking white as a ghost. That’s when he quit. He wouldn’t talk about it at first. Then one day he told me. I was sitting right here and he came in for a drink, sat down next to me, and he whispered it to me. Said he saw a giant spider, as big as a Great Dane, he claimed. He said it was sitting in a tarp-sized web with raccoons and possums and other tiny animals all wrapped up tightly in silk thread. Said it looked up at him with eight giant eyes and hissed before he ran like the wind.”
“Sounds like something Crackerjack would say.”
“The story itself didn’t scare me. What scared me is how much Halsey seemed to believe it. I mean, who knows what’s really down there, below the surface. And I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors regarding the plant?”
“I try to keep my eyes and ears to myself at work.”
“The Redfield Plant has been accused of dumping chemicals in the past. I know it sounds crazy, but what if they’ve been dumping chemicals into the sewer? And what would happen if something was exposed to that toxic waste?”
“So you’re starting to believe Halsey’s giant spider story?”
“I know one thing, they haven’t sent anybody down into the sewer since Halsey. I’ve got a buddy who works for the county. He says nobody will go down there. And I’m telling you, they’re hiding something from us at the plant. What if they’ve really been dumping chemicals down there like some people say?”
“Giant mutated spiders,” Darby laughed and polished off his beer. Then a hideous thought began to dawn on him.
“Oh, God no…”
“What? What is it?”
“My son wanted a baby alligator. He had it for a few weeks. I told him it died when he was at school one day. But it didn’t really die. My wife was pissed at me for buying it. She didn’t want it in the house. She made me flush it down the toilet…”
By Randy Romero
Carol Abrams took a deep, arduous breath as the elevator doors shimmied open. She stepped in slowly, warily, and exhaled another deep sigh as the elevator doors closed with a light thud.
Carol suffered from an extreme case of claustrophobia. But when you live on the thirty-third floor of a forty floor apartment building, you learn to combat that fear.
It sure beats taking the stairs.
She continued taking deep, laborious breaths as the elevator descended. Its mechanical hum sounded like a power drill in Carol’s skull.
Trapped. That’s how she felt. Confined inside a steel box that had haunted her since she was a little girl. The intense anxiety was enough to make her heart race. She could feel her throat starting to tighten up. She needed to get out of this steel contraption ASAP.
She took soft, weak breaths as it became more and more difficult to breathe. She started silently counting all the floors she had left. Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…
The elevator finally reached the ground floor, stopped. But the doors refused to open.
She jabbed the first floor button several times with her index finger.
The doors didn’t open and the elevator resumed moving, traveling down to the basement level. But it didn’t stop there.
She pounded against the doors, frantically mashed all the buttons with her palms. Screamed for help until her throat was coarse. The air felt thin all around her. She pressed the emergency stop button which was unresponsive.
“This isn’t possible,” she cried. “This can’t be happening.”
But the elevator seemed to disagree as it continued its subterranean descent.
After what felt like an eternity to Carol, the elevator came to a sudden stop. The doors slid open and she peered out into the darkness.
A thick raspy voice, like the sound of glass on a chalkboard, greeted her.
“Who are you?” she said, trembling.
“Oh, I have many names…Lucifer, Satan…But I’ve always loved the Prince of Darkness.”
“This isn’t happening…it’s not real…I’m just having a really bad dream.”
“I’m afraid you’re not dreaming. You died Carol. Car accident just a few days ago. And now, you’re here. This is your reward for your sins. Everyone’s hell is different and you are now trapped in your own private hell. Forced to take that terrifying descent over and over. You will spend eternity trapped inside that box.”
“I don’t belong here,” Carol said. “This is a mistake. It’s all a big mistake. If I’m really dead, then I belong in Heaven.”
“There’s no mistake. Have you forgotten about your mother, Carol? Your ailing mother who depended on you for every little thing. You grew sick and tired of waiting on her hand and foot. A little untraceable poison in her soup was all it took. What did you call it to make yourself feel better? A mercy killing? I think that’s the phrase you used to justify it to yourself. I think your mother would have disagreed.”
The elevator doors started to close.
“Wait!” Carol cried out.
“Going up,” the Prince of Darkness said and waved goodbye with one red, clawed hand.
The doors banged shut and the elevator began to ascend.